Sen. Marco Rubio Makes Debut on Senate Floor

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In a speech in which he said the word "America" 65 times, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio made his formal Senate debut, giving his “maiden speech” on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.

The Junior Senator from Florida’s inaugural address, entitled "The American Century," focused on recapturing the American dream, in which he described his own story -- from a “hard-working” and “humble” family yet a long way from where he came from.

“It is the story of a bartender and a maid in Florida,” the Senator said.  “Today their son serves here in the Senate, and stands as a proud witness of the greatness of this land.”

Rubio said that the American dream is dreamt up and lives by countless people whose stories will never be told -- working through sacrifice and hard work -- and personalized it to some who are in the halls of the Capitol every day.

“It is the story of the people who clean our offices here in this building, who work hard so that one day their children can go to college," he said.  "It is the story of the men and women who serve our meals in this building, who work hard so that one day their children can accomplish their own dreams.”

Giving a bit of a history lesson, the Senator described the nation’s rise through adversaries -- the challenges and triumphs the U.S. has had over the 20th century and now finds itself in a new century.

“There’s this growing sense that for America, things will never be the same.  That maybe this century will belong to someone else,” he said.  “Indeed, we do now stand now at a turning point in our history.  One where there are only two ways forward for us.  We will either bring on another American century, or we are doomed to witness America’s decline. “

Another American century, the Senator said, is within reach and he noted that it’s not the nation’s people that is wrong, but rather the government. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gingrich's Comparison of Muslims, Nazis Sparks Outrage

Jessica McGowan/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's comments comparing Muslims to Nazis at the GOP debate Monday night have sparked a firestorm in the blogosphere, where liberals, and even some conservatives, have pounced on the former House speaker for what they view as excessive fear mongering.

"Of course Newt is taking it too far.  He is appealing to the basest instincts of a very small minority of folks," said Matthew Dowd, ABC News consultant who served as chief strategist on George W. Bush's 2004 re-election team.  "Either he is doing this for political purposes to distract people from a campaign in disarray, which is bad, or he actually believes it, which is scary."

At the New Hampshire debate Monday night, Gingrich responded to questions about loyalty tests for administration officials, saying, "The Pakistani who emigrated to the U.S., became a citizen, built a car bomb which luckily failed to go off in Times Square, was asked by the federal judge, how could he have done that when he signed and when he swore an oath to the United States.  And he looked at the judge and said, 'You're my enemy.  I lied.'"

"Now, I just want to go out on a limb here.  I'm in favor of saying to people, if you're not prepared to be loyal to the United States, you will not serve in my administration, period," Gingrich added to applause.

But Gingrich didn't stop there, despite an attempt by moderators to interject.  He compared hiring Muslims to how Americans dealt with Nazis in the 1940s.

"We did this in dealing with the Nazis.  We did this in dealing with the Communists.  And it was controversial both times and both times we discovered after a while, you know, there are some genuinely bad people who would like to infiltrate our country.  And we have got to have the guts to stand up and say, 'No,'" he concluded.

Many people have chastised Gingrich, whose senior aides resigned en masse last week, for invoking 1950s-era McCarthyism, a time during which free speech came under assault amid a heightened threat of Communism.  Muslim groups expressed outrage, saying Gingrich was merely exploiting Muslims for personal and political gain.

"It's really reprehensible when you have a mainstream presidential candidate equate Muslims with Nazis and communists," said Ibrahim Hooper, communications director at Council on American-Islamic Relations.  "It is what we've come to expect from the right wing of the political faction."

Although he might have created a firestorm, this isn't the first time Gingrich has made such a comparison and, to many, his most recent comments are anything but surprising.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Members-Only House Gym Subsidized by Taxpayers

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., admitted to sending lewd photos of himself to multiple women. However, for some members of Congress, the issue isn't only the photos, but where they were taken: the members-only House gym.

ABC News was not allowed to enter either the House or Senate workout facilities, but those who have say they're both equipped with flat-screen TVs, workout machines and a swimming pool.

House reps and senators justify the perk by saying important work gets done there. In March 2010, Rep. Eric Massa questioned the locker room etiquette of then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

"I'm sitting there showering, naked as a jaybird and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest, yelling at me because I wasn't going to vote for the president's budget," said Massa.

Vice President Joe Biden works out at the gym, where he talks shop with senators.

The gyms are kept out of plain sight. There are no signs outside the doors of the gyms; the only way to get inside is for members to get buzzed in. Celebrity fitness guru Tony Horton of P90X fame says he trained a bunch of congressmen at the House gym, including Reps. Weiner, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

"You know Anthony Weiner. He's hardcore," Horton said to The Wall Street Journal before the scandal broke.

And what does it cost for members of Congress to belong to such a place?

For them, not much. Members of the House pay $20 a month, senators pay $40 a month, fees subsidized by taxpayers. Government officials refuse to reveal the true cost of running the House's "wellness center."

ABC News could not get an answer on how much the center is costing Americans, and the costs appear hidden in the Congress's budget.

"We do not provide information on the House gym for security purposes," said Eva Malecki, a communications officer for the architect of the Capitol.

"You get the feeling like they just don't get what's going on out there in the real world when they have all these perks at their fingertips," Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, told ABC News. "The gyms and the hair care and all the parking facilities that they have...they're really living a different life than the average American."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


A New Target for the Debt Talks? July 4th

Pete Souza/The White House(WASHINGTON) -- After leaving the sixth round of deficit negotiations to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit before the Obama administration’s Aug. 2 deadline to finalize a deal, Vice President Biden set the first deadline for action by the group.

The vice president, who was appointed by the president to lead the talks with a group of lawmakers from each of the four caucuses, said that the negotiators would hope to present a draft agreement to congressional leadership by July 4.

“There’s a lot of give on everybody’s side,” Biden said Tuesday while leaving the Capitol after the meeting.

Lawmakers from both parties in the negotiations have been remarkably silent as far as what progress is actually being made during the talks.  Two meetings ago, the vice president said the group is “on pace” to identify at least $1 trillion in cuts. But Democrats oppose any deal that would include cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare.

Democrats say that new tax revenues must be part of any eventual deal to raise the debt ceiling. Republican leaders in Congress have steadfastly said that the country has “a spending problem” -- not a revenue problem -- and raising taxes is off the table.

The group will meet a total of three times this week. In addition to Tuesday’s nearly three-hour meeting, the group will meet next on Wednesday morning and again on Thursday.

As Biden was leaving the Capitol, a reporter asked the vice president whether Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., should resign. The vice president chuckled before answering, “That topic did not come up in the meeting.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


On Medicare, Senate Dems Say They Won’t Accept a 'Mini' Ryan Plan

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate Democratic leadership came out Tuesday and reaffirmed that Medicare cuts should not be on the table during the debt ceiling discussions.

“Seniors can't afford it,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said following Tuesday’s policy luncheons. “The vast majority of the American people, including most Republicans, do not support changing Medicare as we know it, that piece of legislation that came from the House.”

“That” piece of legislation would be the Paul Ryan plan, “The Path to Prosperity,” which cuts the budget deficit by roughly $5 trillion over the next 10 years.

The Ryan plan completely overturns the new healthcare law and proposes a major reform to Medicaid and Medicare. Medicaid would switch to a block grant system, meaning the federal government would allocate money to states, giving them more flexibility in how they tailor their programs for the poor. Currently, the federal government matches every dollar that states spend on Medicaid, and the formula varies from state to state.

On Tuesday, Senator Schumer, D-N.Y., said it is not acceptable to Democrats to even accept a “mini” Ryan plan.

“The Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it must be taken off the table, but Republicans should know that we will not support any mini version plan of ‘Ryan’ either,” Schumer said. “We want to make our position on Medicare perfectly clear.  No matter what we do in these debt-limit talks, we must preserve the program in its current form, and we will not allow cuts to seniors' benefits."

Schumer said that does not mean that Democrats do not want to do anything about Medicare -- he said they will continue to look for waste, fraud, duplication and inefficiency in the system to find savings.

On Tuesday, the Republicans, after their own policy luncheon, said that Democrats are using “scare-tactics and half truths” to try to “scare seniors” about Medicare “and use half-truths about our efforts as Republicans to give people more choices when it comes to Medicare and help strengthen and secure Medicare, not just for those currently on Medicare, but for future generations.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Schumer and Reid: Still No Call for Anthony Weiner's Resignation

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Amid mounting pressure for Congressman Anthony Weiner to resign in the wake of his sexting scandal, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Tuesday would not call for the resignation of his friend Weiner, D-N.Y., but said the situation is “distressing” and “saddening.”

“Those of us who have been friends of Anthony Weiner for a very long time feel his wrongful behavior is distressing, it’s saddening, it’s heartbreaking,” Schumer said at a press conference. “Now it’s clear he needs professional help, that’s what he sought.”

Schumer on Saturday had issued a paper statement much to the same effect, but this is the first time the New York senator has made on-camera remarks regarding the scandal since it broke.

The two men are friends – Weiner worked for Schumer for many years when the now-senator was a New York congressman.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-N.V., was asked why he has not called for Weiner’s resignation, amid many calls from Democratic leaders for Weiner to go.

“I’ve said enough about that,” Reid said. He referenced his last statement made last Tuesday, when he said he wish he could defend Weiner but cannot.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Courts Latino Voters with Puerto Rico Trip

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images (file)(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) -- Arriving in Puerto Rico Tuesday on the first official visit by a sitting U.S. president in five decades, President Obama reminded island residents of his campaign pledge to make room for them in his presidency.

"When I ran for president, I promised to include Puerto Rico not just on my itinerary, but also in my vision of where our country needs to go," Obama told a cheering crowd of supporters during a speech in San Juan. "And I am proud to say that we've kept that promise, too."

The trip is also meant to curry favor among mainland U.S. Latinos and raise some campaign cash.

While none of the island's nearly 4 million U.S. citizens can vote in the 2012 general election, the president knows they have some political sway, both with their pocketbooks and through ties to family members who have migrated to the U.S. where they can vote.

Puerto Ricans contributed $1.7 million to federal political candidates and committees during the 2010 midterm elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, with 80 percent of the funds benefiting Democrats. In the 2008 election cycle, Puerto Ricans gave roughly $4 million in itemized federal political donations, mostly to Democrats, including at least $354,000 to then-candidate Obama, the Center found.

Obama was scheduled to hold one fundraiser during his day-long visit to the island today. He was also expected to commemorate President John F. Kennedy's official presidential visit in 1961 and meet with Puerto Rico's Republican Gov. Luis Fortuno.

But it is the symbolism of the trip that holds the greatest significance for Obama and Democrats, generating goodwill with the booming Puerto Rican population living inside the United States, particularly Florida, where about 850,000 Puerto Ricans can cast presidential ballots next fall.

The effort comes as part of a broader micro-targeting strategy by the Obama campaign to drive turnout among Latinos and other groups deemed essential to helping win the president a second term.

Obama last week became the first presidential candidate to name a Latina as political director of a national campaign. Katherine Archuleta, chief of staff for Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, also hails from Colorado, a key state for Obama's re-election bid with a relatively high number of eligible Latino voters.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jon Huntsman to Announce Presidential Run

ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Former Ambassador Jon Huntsman will announce his run for presidency in Liberty Park, New Jersey on June 21, ABC News has learned. Huntsman will declare candidacy just steps away from the Statue of Liberty.

Immediately following the announcement, Huntsman will launch a tour through New Hampshire, South Carolina, Utah, Florida and Nevada.

Huntsman has already been making the rounds through key primary states, visiting New Hampshire three separate times since his return to the United States last month.

Huntsman will meet with Dr. Henry Kissinger in New York City on Tuesday to discuss the United States' relationship with China. Huntsman was appointed to serve as Ambassador to the nation under President Obama in May 2009.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Romney: Veiled Shots at Pawlenty, Focus on Obama, Retail Politics

James Devaney/WireImage(NEW YORK) -- Mitt Romney loped around Derry, N.H., Tuesday morning, riding high after Monday night's first debate in the nation's first primary state.  In comments with reporters, he kept his focus on President Obama, but also seemed to direct some criticism at a Republican rival.

His campaign this time is a lot different than five years ago when he lost the Republican nomination, he told a tangle of reporters following his hour-long walk around Derry.

"Five years ago it was 'who the heck are you?' and now it's 'Oh yeah, I know who you are," he told reporters following him around in Derry, where he engaged in some traditional retail politicking, introducing himself to voters.

The former Massachusetts governor was well-received by locals at a diner, where he posed for pictures, recommended the waffles, and kept the talk on sports: Bruins and Red Sox.

Walking down Broadway in Derry, a man yelled out of a dump truck, "Way to go, Mitt. You got my vote!"

That man, Ron McPhail, a roofer who supported Romney in 2008, did not watch the debate Monday night, but turned his dump truck around and came over to meet Romney. McPhail later said he has not been affected by the bad economy.

But Mary Ellen Zarba, who stopped Romney on the street, complained that her husband has lived for three years as a civil engineer in Saudi Arabia because "there's no jobs in this country."

Romney told Zarba that President Obama is to blame.

New Hampshire is home turf for Romney, who owns a summer home in the state.

During a press conference, Romney did not mention his rivals for the Republican nomination, instead targeting President Obama, who he said doesn't recognize there is an economic crisis.

"The President has been celebrating the auto industry coming back. Recognize at the same time we've seen unemployment go to 9.1 percent. He indicated this is just a bump on the road. This isn't just a bump on the road, these are Americans," said Romney, referring to the president's argument that the recovery will take time.

"The president is just not connected to what is happening in America and his policies have failed us," said Romney.

Romney said he thought all the Republican candidates did well at the debate -- "everybody was lifted a little bit."

He directed some gentle, but clear jibes at former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Romney lamented that he did not get asked a question about the economy, and said he does agree with a lot of what the other candidates said Monday, particularly Tim Pawlenty.

Drawing an analogy, he said he didn't know who would win a debate between former GE CEO Jack Welch and a business student. But there's no question who is better equipped to run a business.

"A lot of people can say the same words, but to understand what those words mean and to actually craft solutions that work to create jobs, in that circumstance it's helpful to have actually created jobs, to understand how an economy works because you've worked in it."

"To create jobs it helps to have had a job," he said.

On whether his health reform record and the Massachusetts health plan he signed into law will continue to dog him: "If people want to look at what's happening in Massachusetts, why, I'm not running for governor of Massachusetts. I'm running for president of the United States and my plan is for the nation."

And asked about Afghanistan: "We would not make a decision on withdrawal dates based on cash flow or based upon political favors or political benefit, but instead based upon the ability of the Afghan troops to preserve independence in their country."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


After Strong Debate Performance, Rep. Bachmann Takes the High Road

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- The gloves didn't come off in last night's GOP debate: Tim Pawlenty didn't take on Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann -- coming off of a scene-stealing performance -- followed the same script Tuesday morning on ABC's Good Morning America.

Keeping her eye on President Obama, Bachmann didn't bite when asked if she agreed with Tim Pawlenty's Sunday take on the health care law Romney passed in Massachusetts: "Obamneycare."

"I think it is very clear what I said last evening that as President of the United States it would be one of my top priorities a full scale repeal of Obamacare," she told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "I've been involved in this fight from the beginning George, when President Obama was trying to put this forth."

Asked whether she believed that Massachusetts was the model for Obama's national law, Bachmann said "What I'm focusing on is the model that President Obama gave to the American people."

"One thing I know, George, in 2014 no matter what any state decides to do with their health care, Obamacare will trump all 50 states. And so it doesn't matter if states right now are trying to mitigate against the ill effects of Obamacare. Obamacare will trump all state law," she said.

"So no big differences between you and Governor Romney on healthcare?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"Well I know what I will do I will repeal Obamacare because it won't matter what happened in any of the states, Obamacare will steamroll over that state law. That’s the reality," she said.

Monday night the Minnesota Republican seemed to contradict herself when it came to gay marriage -- saying she wouldn't work to overturn gay marriage in states that have passed it like Iowa and New Hampshire. But she also said she was for a constitutional amendment to reserve marriage to men and women.

"Gay marriage," Stephanopoulos said. "At first you suggested that you don't think that state laws that legalize gay marriage should be overturned.  And then there are states, both Iowa and New Hampshire have legalized -- "

"George," Bachmann interrupted, "the question that I was asked was if I was President of the United States would I come into the states that passed that legislation and advocate either for or against a state law. And as President of the United States that would not be my role, to advocate for or against a state law."

Stephanopoulos pressed, "Right but you later said you were for a constitutional amendment -- a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage would have the effect of overturning state law."

Rep. Bachmann countered, "Well in my home state I was the chief author of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. That's consistently been my position. And I do support that position at a federal level. But what the questioner asked me is if as President of the United States I would come into a state and advocate either for or against a state law and I said that I would not do that. I believe in the 10th Amendment and I believe in Federalism."

"But you believe in a constitutional amendment which would overturn the state law?" Stephanopoulos asked.

Congresswoman Bachmann insisted, "I believe in the constitutional amendment, but also one thing I do know on the DOMA law, that's the Defense of Marriage Act, President Obama has said as the President of the United States who swore that he would faithfully execute the laws of the United States, he said he would pick and choose and not select, not enforce laws that are on the books. That's why we are seeing a movement toward a federal marriage Amendment: because President Obama won;t even stand up for a law that President Clinton signed and passed into law and that's the Defense of Marriage Act which would preserve marriage between one man and one woman."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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